In the Wet of Spring

Wednesday we had an idyllic Grand Cheese Tasting with twenty guests on a perfect evening and I left about 8:15 pm to go home. I had been watching the weather for a week and I knew we were right on the edge. Rain was forecast to return in the middle of the night. Rain again. When you have repeating rain cycles like this during bloom in a bramble, organic agriculture has to go into overtime to hold on. I grabbed a drink of water, looked mournfully at the cold beer in the fridge and headed out to spray.

Fungi need water droplets. They ride them from the parent fungal colony to the next potential infection site, and then use an enzyme stew made possible by the rain drop to drill into the host: our developing berries. Once they hook in, you cannot stop them from persisting. But before a rain comes you can fight.

The basic strategy is to cover the parent colonies with something that will suppress them, and at the same time coat the developing fruit with something hydrophobic or mechanically antagonistic to fungal stew. Enter our players: neem oil, elemental copper and Bacillus Subtilis. These three are used in rotation between rain events to keep covering the parent colonies, and they coat the small berries to prevent infection. On this particular Wednesday it was neem oil, since I used copper last Friday, and I used Bacillus Subtilis (a bacteria antagonistic to these fungal invaders) the Friday before that.

Driving a tractor sprayer through narrow rows at dusk while flipping triggers on a sprayer is like sailing a small boat in heavy wind. You hold on tight for a 30-minute ride of white knuckle attention-grabbing spectacle while you blast emulsified neem oil into the canopy behind you watching moths and dead leaves go flying as the air pressure rakes the canopy. I have to say that after eight years, I like the rush. I could live with a better schedule in which to get it, but part of agriculture that lures men in is dealing with highly variable environments at speed. Off to the south lightning was playing across the sky.

When I finished and washed up it was about 10:30, and after a shower I sat down to a cold beer and leftovers from dinner. The dull nutty smell of neem oil hanging heavy on the air filled my consciousness and gave me a peaceful night as rain gently moved into the area overnight.

This year if all holds, and there is no surety of that, we will have one of our better if not our best blackberry year to date. We are very excited to keep tending and keep holding on in order to produce a crop that adorns and makes lively the summer in Kansas. We hope to begin picking on June 22nd or June 29th. Reservations will open seven days before picking, so check in around the 15th to see where we are.

Out in the Creamery Keri Jacobs is doing fantastic and exciting work. We have Caprino Fresco and Feta in stock, wonderful cheeses from other vendors, as well as fresh boules and Linzer tarts from the kitchen. We cannot wait to share our first bloomy rind cheese with everyone starting 5/31.

Through the summer the Creamery is open and ready to sell cheese, gelato, and fine accompaniments, to prepare a picnic for you and your family, or prepare an aperitif spread you can take home for special occasions.

We look forward to sharing the summer with you at Elderslie.

A Creamery Door

Elderslie Creamery Door

A door is what stands between two worlds separating them and uniting them. Practically a great invention, symbolically also a rich one.

I learned long ago that my wife is much more talented than I am so I have her do my layouts, which take her 15 or 20 minutes. Then I get to carve.

Carving is another way to exercise an act of attention and consideration for something. It does not take that long, but the product is something lively, something exciting.

The right side shows alfalfa, our prized legume on the plains and the main feed of our herd. The left shows thistle from which some of the coagulants used in cheese are extracted. The middle is a goat, who is rather necessary to the endeavor of operating a goat creamery.

 

Not Done

Two weeks ago I was in a gas station in Lincoln County Kansas after two days walking in pursuit of birds along the vast expanse of the blue hills. A man got out of a truck next to me and walked inside. The clerk casually asked him, “have you got all your farming done?” I suppose that is like asking the parent of a 6 year old, “have you got that kid all raised?”

I am tired on a cold day, but I know that I am not done. I know that I wasn’t put on this world to get done. I was put here for the journey, through success and failures, through joys and trials, and at times through rest. We don’t rest because we are done, we rest because we will never be done.

I came across a sketch in my journal from about 30 months ago. I stared at it. I felt a little tired. 30 months ago the seminal idea for the creamery at Elderslie was on paper. Life goes by so fast. Today we are not done, but the story is going on, and soon, within weeks, milk will start running through the veins of our new creamery at Elderslie, as another chapter begins.

-George Elder

Walling

I am a son of Adam Smith. I was taught that endeavor is motivated by self-interest and justified by profit. But as I have grown older I feel that is an oversimplification of the human being. Not that Smith was wrong, but that maybe he needed to be blended equal parts with Tolstoy or Wordsworth and taken in balance. 

After ten years as a small business I think one of the things that has impressed me most is how complex and personal it is. Many times you won’t really know if the decision is right or wrong. You can’t rely on profit alone to justify it, nor can your self-interest clearly guide a complex decision like “how important are the aesthetics of a wall?” Its just a wall, really, right? I don’t have an answer but reading James Rebanks “The Shepherd’s Life” I found another way to struggle with the topic.

In the Lake District of Northern England farmers still engage in a backwards relic of the medieval age called walling. They spend some allocated portion of their year stacking stones and repairing the walls which are so characteristic of the region and one of its great charms. These walls are impractical. They cost so much in labor, and God help you if you ever had to buy that stone. But this old habit, born partly of necessity since they did not have other materials, is continued because of affection. They love their walls. And if you ever go you will fall in love with the charm of this impractical, archaic, unprofitable way of life. 

The most efficient ways of doing things are often not the most lovely. We often seek to justify gruesome aesthetics by pointing at the money it made us or saved us and saying, “look what I have been able to do with that.” Thus we build a harsh and bitter world, which we separate from our lives by distance, by walls, and by habits, and then live in a world where all the aesthetic beauty is only aesthetic and has no function.

I believe there is a deep lesson in walling. There are parts of the world of production which are unavoidably gruesome and unlovely. But we as human beings, moved by affection, can choose to build a world not unprofitable, but less profitable and more lovely. We still need to make a profit, but what if the poets and philosophers are right that humanity exists more in contentedness with simple things than in the accruement of wealth.

In the end we have to make profit. In the end we have to take care of our families and our homes. But in the end I think the question of “how beautiful is the world we are building?” should haunt us each time we build a structure or create a lasting mark on the physical world.

-George Elder

Creamery Barn Doors

(Craftsmanship and photos courtesy of Taylor Johnson Furniture Company)

Creamery Entrance Door

(Craftsmanship and photos courtesy of Taylor Johnson Furniture Company)

Creamery Brickwork

Creating Local

Some days I wonder if creativity is worth the bother. The creation of a thing unique and planned from idea and brought out of the murky realms of our mind into the light is painful, expensive, and tedious.

Local food and local products are not virtuous in themselves; rather they are an opportunity for the expression of a unique sentiment grounded in affection for a place and worked out in the hurly burly of physical creation as a work is built, a product crafted, or paint laid on the canvas. Local products and experiences have to actually convey that affection to the viewer, the customer or the guest and inspire in them a sense of delight.

Thus the idea that Kansas is a place worth living can in the crucible of creativity really give us better beer, better food and unique and wonderful experiences. The value and nobility of these is the responsibility of both the person creating and the person buying. Thought by thought and small purchase by small purchase we are creating the world around us.

Through the fall we offer a menu each month that is served Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It offers five courses that give voice to the season and the soil of Central Kansas. By mid-winter our Creamery will open offering artisan cheeses, cured meats and accompaniments. We believe creativity is worth the bother. We believe unique local establishments can inspire a sense of delight. We believe each of us can make the world around us more lovely and more wonderful.

Reserve a table here

George Elder

Creamery Scribbles
Elderslie Farm Creamery
Creamery Construction
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Creamery Dreams

About ten years ago I was sitting at the table with my father and brother discussing goats. How much milk does a goat produce? How much cheese is that? Are there any advantages to smaller production? The questions swirled, and though much discussion was had, they remained mostly unanswered.

Three years ago, the questions started again. Through the interim my mother had maintained a few goats, made cheese, and kept the faith. My mother has always been attracted to slim odds and difficult endeavor. These questions started an odyssey in my life that has taken me around our country investigating small corners of the world and businesses I would never have imagined.

Elderslie Farm Cheese

My travels took me and other members of my family from the Redwood Hills Creamery in Petaluma, California, to Idyll Farms which looks out over the lakes at the Northern tip of the Michigan lower peninsula. Along the way I met some interesting characters. In California I met a Swiss dairy scientist who could lose you in the technicalities of milk, bacteria, mold, and complex equipment function. In Iowa I met an American contrarian who probably built cheese caves because he feared nuclear war and being in a cave surrounded by cheese that might be edible for 8-10 years if the world melted down seemed prudent. In Indiana I met German industrialists bent on producing mass quantities of milk and cheese through synchronized systems of industrial organization that never slept with barns that stretched for miles. In little corners of every place I travelled I met poetic souls working as cheese makers or affineurs who followed Thoreau or Wordsworth and believed that small endeavor close to the land was a realization of something human and beautiful.

As with all endeavor, eventually there comes a time when you must decide to go forward or not. That point came as a slow realization wrung out of late-night board meetings, stressful dinner conversations, and idyllic moments pondering cheese in all its glory and possibility. Thus, plans are drawn and the heavy wheels of a building project are turning again here at Elderslie.

The Creamery at Elderslie will be under construction through the spring and into late summer, but will be our largest project to date. We are building a facility to eventually house about 100 milking does with production focused on retail sales of artisan cheeses and gelato here on the farm and as gift items for delivery or shipping. By fall of 2018 we should have a completed facility and be ready to offer a lovely addition to convivial evenings or special gatherings. Local cheeses and goat gelato are on our minds, but for now we will be digging foundations, pouring concrete, building the herd, and keeping the faith.

-George